At this time in the offseason the majority of teams have mostly filled out its roster for the upcoming 2014 NFL season, there still remains hidden gems on the free agent market that could potentially be difference makers on an NFL squad. Most of the remaining pool of free agents are highly priced veterans who have priced themselves out of a job or for declining performance.
The 2014 NFL draft was considered one of the deepest in recent memory which further prohibits players from finding a job as general managers around the NFL would rather pay a rookie a minimal salary for the same production in a league with harsh cap restrictions.
Football is a young man's game and most NFL rosters overturn from year to year at alarming rates. However, if I were a current general manager there are definitely several players I'd be willing to take a risk on bringing into the fold for my franchise.
1. WR Santonio Holmes (2013 Stats) 23 Receptions, 456 yds, TD
The former Super Bowl XLIII hero for the Pittsburgh Steelers (we all remember the catch), Holmes has been a colossal disappointment. In 2009, Holmes forced his way out of Pittsburgh despite a productive season with his off-field antics and contract demands. In desperate need to bolster its offense, the NY Jets (mistakenly) handed Holmes a lucrative contract entering 2010. Holmes played exactly one full healthy season in New York and never crossed the 1,000 yard receiving plateau in any season. Ouch. On the wrong-side of 30, Holmes has heard crickets on the open market but still has enough gas left in the tank to be a complimentary weapon on the outside. Let's not forget the quarterback play in NY has been downright atrocious. Mark Sanchez? Yikes. Reports have surfaced of a possible Steelers reunion but haven't gained any traction. Holmes could fit with the WR-starved Cleveland Browns for the right price. His demands will have to drop.
2. DT Kevin Williams (2014 Stats)- 3.5 Sacks, 1 INT, 28 Tackles
Williams has been a stalwart defensive tackle for the Minnesota Vikings for nearly a decade but remains on the free agent market due to his high contract demands. The situation reminds me of the Richard Seymour free agent saga who has been all but forgotten. Aging veterans such as Williams must realize the days of teams overpaying for them are over. A perennial pro-bowler for the Vikings, Williams' production has dipped in recent seasons due to injuries. During a prolonged stretch, Williams was considered perhaps the best pass rushing DT in the game. At only 33, Williams could definitely provide an inside presence for a team searching for line help. The Giants were linked to Williams earlier this off-season but he left NY without a contract. Look for Williams to sign before or during the start of training camp with a team that has playoff/championship aspirations.
3. LB James Harrison (2013 Stats)- 2.5 Sacks, 1 INT, 31 Tackles
It just never looked right. Harrison was your classic Pittsburgh Steelers' mauler at linebacker. In Steelers' tradition, Harrison was just one in the long lineage of Steelers greats at the position, (Lambert, Greene, Gildon, Lloyd, Kirkland, etc.). He left as a free agent prior to 2013 and signed on with the rival Cincinnati Bengals and it never materialized for Harrison. He was forced into a 4-3 defense after playing nine seasons as a 3-4 rushing OLB. Known as one the hardest hitters in the game, Harrison made up for his lack of size with the explosiveness he possessed flying around the field after going undrafted entering the NFL. Gone are the days of Harrison playing as an every-down backer, but he can still play for my team as part of a rotation rushing the quarterback in a 3-4 defense. A Super Bowl XLIII hero in his own right, Harrison deserves one more shot based on his illustrious career. A possible reunion in Pittsburgh has been bandied about and would make absolute sense in all regard.
4. CB Terrell Thomas (2013 Stats)- 16 games, 67 Tackles, 1 INT
The former 2008 2nd round pick of the New York Giants, Thomas was deemed expendable by GM Jerry Reese and company early in the off-season. The Giants upgraded with the signings of CB Walter Thurmond III (Seattle) and CB Dominique Rodgers-Cromartie (Broncos) and Thomas was the odd-man out in a crowded group. Mired by catastrophic knee injuries (multiple ACL tears) in his career, Thomas still possesses the ability to be a solid slot-cover corner in the league despite his shortcomings. Only 29, the former USC product has been linked to several teams (Lions, Panthers, Patriots) and is sure to find a home by the start of training camp. He can play on special teams and is a versatile defender worthy of earning a roster spot in the NFL.
5. TE Jermichael Finley (2013 Stats)- 25 Receptions, 300 Yards, 3 TDs
Finley was one his way to a fine '13 season when it was cut short just seven weeks in after a horrific spinal cord injury sent Finley to the hospital on a stretcher. It was an ugly scene on October 29th at home against the Cleveland Browns as Finley laid motionless on the turf after a collision with safety Tashaun Gipson. He required spinal fusion surgery to heal his bruised spinal cord and is lucky to be even a walking member of society once again. Despite the injury concerns, Finley has made a tremendous recovery effort to once again take the field in the NFL as a starting tight end. Despite having a $10 million dollar insurance policy guaranteed, Finley has made it clear he'd like to play again. He has been cleared medically and has been linked to multiple teams including the Seahawks, Giants, Packers, and Patriots. It will take tolerance from both Finley and a front office willing to take a risk on the talented play-maker. One can only root for this miraculous comeback story.
6. OT Eric Winston (2013 Stats) 16 Games Played
Winston, 30 is possibly the best remaining FA offensive lineman left on the market and could immediately bring depth to a team in the trenches. After six tremendous seasons with the Houston Texans, Winston has bounced around in both '12 and '13 playing for Kansas City and Arizona as a backup/swing tackle. The newly elected President of the NFLPA in March, Winston has yet to gain any traction in a slow offensive lineman free agent market. His current role with the players association perhaps has held Winston from finding a job, but more likely is his declining play. Winston has been linked to the Ravens as early as June 1st, whom he has history with current offensive coordinator Gary Kubiak, (former head coach in Houston).
7. QB Josh Freeman (2013 Stats) 4 games started, 2 TD, 4 INT, 52.6 QB Rating
Freeman has falled on hard times since the start of 2013. The former first round pick was supposed to be the future of the Tampa Bay Buccaneers but clashed with then-head coach Greg Schiano as was released after the Bucs got off to a 0-4 start with Freeman struggling to move the offense. He was claimed on waivers by the Minnesota Vikings and played one forgetful game for the purple and gold in Week 7 against the NY Giants on MNF. He went 20 for 53 for 190 yards and an INT and looked lost. He never saw the field again in the final 9 weeks of the season. Earlier this off-season, Freeman was signed by the Giants as a potential backup to Eli Manning but has since been released on May 30th, only six weeks after signing with Big Blue. Let us not forget that he his only one full season removed from a 27 TD-17 INT performance for the Bucs, so the talent is there for a possible career turnaround. I'm sure it's been a humbling experience for the once prized quarterback but he should be able to land somewhere in the NFL and compete as a backup. This story isn't quite over.
8. LB Jonathan Vilma (2013 Stats)- 1 GP, 1 Tackle
The former University at Miami standout has been a shell of his former self in recent seasons and his tumultuous run with the New Orleans Saints came to a close after appearing in just one game in the 2013 season. At age 32, Vilma has gotten absolutely zero interest on the free agent market and with troubling knee issues dating back to the '11 season, it appears the former first round pick's career could be in jeopardy. During his prime, Vilma was an absolute force for the New York Jets from '04-'07 and helped the Saints win the Super Bowl in 2009. Vilma's services could be used in Dallas with the recent season-ending injury to starting MLB Sean Lee. I've always been a Vilma supporter and despite his knee troubles, I think he can definitely help an NFL team with his leadership both on-and-off the field. He recently reached out to the Miami Dolphins for a homecoming of sorts but the franchise had 'zero interest'.
9. TE Dustin Keller (2013 Stats)- DNP Injury
Keller, 29, was once considered one of the more promising young tight ends in all of football until his devastating knee injury last preseason where he tore all three major knee ligaments and dislocated his entire knee as a member of the Miami Dolphins. The Dolphins found a replacement in converted FB Charles Clay, whom had a breakout '13 season in Miami, thus Keller was deemed expendable. If Keller can fully recover from his injury, (usually takes two seasons) he definitely could play for my team any time. He should find a home by training camp and was recently linked to the New England Patriots as recent ago as June 1st.
10. DE/LB Brett Keisel (2013 Stats)- 4.0 Sacks, 29 Tackles
The 35-year old veteran has spent his entire 12 year career in Pittsburgh becoming one of the more recognizable players on the defensive unit. A stalwart run stopper from the defensive end position, Keisel has always produced at a respectable level for the Steelers and could still viably play at a high level even at his age. Strictly a 3-4 defensive end, Keisel's market has been limited to only a possible return to Pittsburgh on a veteran's minimum salary. Perhaps possessing the best beard in the entire league, Keisel definitely deserves to keep playing.